Huawei has unveiled an Android smartphone that uses dual-camera technology to let owners refocus photos after they have been taken, after a collaboration between the Chinese tech firm and German camera-maker Leica.
This means the P9 can create shallow depth-of-field shots more commonly associated with larger lenses.
The Shenzhen-based company shipped more than 106 million handsets in 2015, representing 44.3% growth on the previous year, according to the research firm IDC. This was the fastest rise in sales of any of the major brands placing Huawei in third place in terms of market share.
However, Apple still sold more than double the number of phones and Samsung more than three times the figure.
“The camera is one of the things that defines a premium smartphone, but still, we cannot ignore that there is plenty of room to improve the quality of the photography,” commented Ian Fogg from the IHS Technology consultancy.
“And there are things you can do when you put two camera sensors on the back that you cannot do with a single sensor.”
Rather than offering users the ability to take two different types of photos- as is the case with LG’s dual-camera G5 handset: the P9 combines the data from both its rear sensors to create its 12 megapixel shots.
By making use of both types, the firm says, the phone can deliver better contrast and offer superior performance in low-light conditions.
But the standout feature is the ability to simulate wide-aperture photography: an effect that allows more light into a lens in order to create a shallow depth-of-field.
A shallow depth-of-field can create striking photographs of a subject with a blurry background. Photography enthusiasts often spend considerable sums on digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) and large lenses to create the look.
Unlike these larger cameras, the P9 also allows users to alter the part of the image they want to be in sharp focus after they have pressed the shutter button.
This is made possible by the fact that the phone’s two lenses capture slightly different views, and built-in software can analyse the differences to deduce depth information. Alternatively, the files can be exported in the RAW file format for editing on a PC.
The facility is only available in stills mode, however, and cannot be used to refocus captured videos.
Lytro previously tried to sell specialist cameras that offered a similar refocusing ability, though; it recently gave up on the consumer market after acknowledging that the rise of smartphone photography had restricted its appeal.
Nokia and HTC have also offered refocusing functions on some of their handsets, although they achieved the effect in a different manner.
One industry-watcher said that the tie-up with Leica should encourage potential buyers not to dismiss Huawei’s dual-camera facility as being a gimmick.
“Leica is one of the strongest brands in photography, so having an association with them should make users believe that the quality of the pictures should be good,” said Francisco Jeronimo, research director for European mobile devices at IDC.
“Of course, the quality of the image won’t be the same as is possible from one of Leica’s own cameras, but it does tell people that a company that really understands photography has been involved in engineering the device.”
Huawei’s challenge now is how to communicate the benefit of the Leica brand to the general public as it is pushing the P9 as a mass-market flagship and not a niche device aimed at just the camera-centric few.